Celebrating the queer community at Biennale

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Photographs on their routines and intimate lives on show

Photographers Sunil Gupta and Charan Singh are celebrating the queer community by portraying their lives in detail — something that vast sections of people seldom get to see.

The duo weaves together 20 unique stories that invite the viewer into the routines, work, homes, and intimate lives of their subjects from different backgrounds — urban professionals to daily labourers, at the ongoing Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

‘Dissent and Desire’ is a series of photographs that documents quotidian moments of the LGBTQ+ community in Delhi. The aim is to learn more about the hidden histories of people and artists who are normally disallowed a platform to narrate their stories and relate their experiences, say London-based Sunil and Delhiite Charan.

The exhibit at Kashi Townhouse showcases first-hand stories. Their voices are eloquent, each tale is engaging. “Taking place only months after homosexuality was decriminalised in India with the overturning of Section 377, I think the biennale provides the perfect platform to start a conversation about the LGBTQ community in this country,” says 65-year-old Sunil.

Charan, 40, who was introduced into art through Sunil, says he had never thought art could be used to represent the LGBTQ community. “I was working as a social worker before meeting Sunil. Only after meeting him and people like Anita Dube [curator of the ongoing biennale] did I understand that art creates a space for queer subjects,” he says. “Through my photographs and videos, I try to express individual identities and envisions them as complex human beings with challenging and nuanced lives.”

Charan’s photographs often make references to Indian photographic history, as he presents his sitters in compositions that resemble the regal portraits of the British Raj or Bollywood glamour shots. On the other hand, Sunil’s work imbues his photographs, writing, and activism with his personal experience as an openly gay and HIV-positive man dividing his life between the UK and India.

According to the artists, the photographic series is an accessible public space, with portraits and videos of the project’s participants presented on walls painted in bright yellow to resemble the artists’ own living rooms. The presentation in Kochi attests to how sexuality is an integral part of people’s outward-facing identities and community formation.

While Section 377 decriminalised what the law considers “private” acts, the project by Sunil and Charan is a “queer act of resistance”. Here, storytelling and sharing openly are viable forces for systemic societal change. Charan notes, “The project is created on a first person narrative basis. We are not changing their voices.”

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